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Local doctor heading up partnership to help Rochester children with obesity

Children playing soccer in park
Africa Studio -
Children play soccer in a park.

The University of Rochester Medical Center is partnering with local pediatric clinics as part of a new initiative to help children struggling with obesity.

The TEAM-UP program consists of two components: counseling by a primary care provider focused on healthy eating and activity habits, and family-based behavioral treatment for children and parents. It has been implemented in three other states: Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana.

“This is a program that addresses a need that has been building for more than a decade,” said Dr. Stephen Cook, who is leading the local effort. Cook, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at URMC, says childhood obesity has been a growing public health crisis before the pandemic, and has only gotten worse with lockdowns and school going virtual.

This project will specifically focus on children ages 6-16. The weekly parent-child counseling sessions will be conducted virtually through Zoom. Participants will track data on physical activity and eating habits throughout the course of the program, which is scheduled to run until 2023.

“There can be stigma and shame with obesity,” Cook said, “Oftentimes parents don’t want to go the weight station at the doctor’s office.” He said virtual sessions can increase comfort levels and convenience. Furthermore, the pairing of parent and child makes it a collective effort, which he says research shows increases effectiveness.

“Changes can't be left to the individual,” Cook said. “It has to involve the whole family.”